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Clergy in Boston make vital plea to end violence

Say community effort is needed

Bishop John M. Borders III appealed to male congregants at Morning Star Baptist Church on Sunday to help stem the city’s violence by reaching out to men who may be losing control. Borders also invited gang members to church to find a way forward. Similar pleas rang out 2 miles away at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Bishop John M. Borders III appealed to male congregants at Morning Star Baptist Church on Sunday to help stem the city’s violence by reaching out to men who may be losing control. Borders also invited gang members to church to find a way forward. Similar pleas rang out 2 miles away at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

At Morning Star Baptist Church on Sunday, Bishop John M. Borders III called the men of the congregation to the altar and made an impassioned plea.

“I’m going to ask every one of us to find . . . just one man that’s losing it a little bit, a little bit out of control, and befriend him,” Borders said inside the packed Mattapan church. “Some people are going to talk about . . . what government ought to be doing, but we have personal responsibility. We have a responsibility as men of God. Jesus won the world with 12 men.”

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In a city that began 2014 with a series of violent killings that roiled the community, where a 9-year-old boy died of a gunshot wound 48 hours earlier, Borders and other ministers called for community members to work for peace.

Borders invited gang members — who police say are behind much of the violence — to come to the church and find salvation, and he called on men in the congregation to do their part.

“We’re going to make a vow as men of God here now that we’re not going to respond to challenges in our lives with violence,” he said.

Two miles away, at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester, the Rev. Miniard Culpepper made a similar plea. Culpepper, a leading religious voice against guns and gangs in the city, said times had changed.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Men attending Sunday’s service at Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan approached the front of the church for prayer.

“To have a gun on a kitchen table . . . ” Culpepper said, in an apparent reference to the fatal shooting of the child.

‘My own father, he definitely made sure that all the men in our house were tight and close-knit, that we build each other up.’

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“There was a time when we had Bibles on the kitchen table. When everyone went to the table, there was a Bible there,” he continued. “And, so this morning, the community is mourning the loss of one of our children.”

The 9-year-old was shot by his 14-year-old brother Friday morning, in an apparent accident in the family’s Morton Street home. Authorities have not identified the children.

The teenager was charged with unlawful gun possession and involuntary manslaughter and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in a closed juvenile session at Dorchester Municipal Court.

Police had been called to the home last June, when the teenager allegedly assaulted the 9-year-old and their mother.

No one answered the door at the home Sunday. A woman answered the phone belonging to the victim’s mother but declined to identify herself or talk about the case, telling a a reporter: “We just need our time.”

At a Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown, Mayor Martin J. Walsh told reporters that he supports President Obama’s push for increased federally mandated background checks on firearm purchases. He said enhancing national gun control measures could help curb violence in Boston because firearms move across state lines.

“The fact that a 14-year-old had a gun in the first place, there’s something wrong with that,” the mayor said. “Most of these guns are coming from out of state — states that don’t have tough gun laws.”

Walsh called the death of the 9-year-old “terrible.” He did not discuss the investigation but said of the recent violence, “there’s not an easy solution here.”

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Bishop John M. Borders III spoke about violence during the Sunday service at Morning Star Baptist Church. He asked men in attendance to come forward for prayer.

On Saturday, the mayor said his administration will work with Boston police to institute a gun buyback program, in an effort to reduce the number of guns circulating in the city.

On Monday, police will meet with clergy and members of Roxbury-based Mothers for Justice and Equality to discuss supplementing outreach to at-risk youths with support for mothers and other family members.

Monalisa Smith, president and chief executive of the mothers’ organization, said the meeting had been planned before the Mattapan shooting but the boy’s death would be an important topic on their agenda.

When police were called to the home last summer, Smith said, there was a missed opportunity for the kind of holistic family intervention possible through a collaboration between her organization and Operation Homefront, a police-clergy partnership.

“If you think about it, we could have avoided that,” Smith said of the death. “This is a good case study for us to look and say, how can we collaborate to provide support services?”

During the Pleasant Hill service, Culpepper said he didn’t know the family but spoke of the tragedy of losing a child.

“He’s just beginning to add and subtract, and write nice, grammatically correct sentences,” he said. “Just beginning to understand the history of our nation and our whole world.”

Parishioners said they found solace in Culpepper’s words.

“All I did was pray for peace, and for this family, when I heard about what happened,” said Alice Gaskings, 55, of Roslindale, who attended church with her 19-year-old grandson.

Shanitha Blocker, 36, attended with her three children, ages 17, 10, and 4. She said she “cried and prayed” about the shooting, which she said was “just such a tragedy.”

Blocker, like others, wondered why the boys weren’t in school. “Why were they home on a school day?” she asked. “I have a teenager, and I know how hard it can be to raise them. But where did that gun come from?”

Following the Morning Star service, congregants echoed Borders’s message, saying men need to do more to support each other, act as role models, and intervene when they see young men in trouble.

Ryan Sands, 19, who grew up in Orange, Conn., said he had gotten into a little trouble when he was younger but had a devoted father and other strong male role models who set him straight.

“My own father, he definitely made sure that all the men in our house were tight and close-knit, that we build each other up,” he said.

Lance Smith, 23, who lives in Grove Hall, said he tries to get along with everyone, but he has seen violence erupt from simple misunderstandings.

“Things could get off on the wrong foot just by a look,” he said. “It’s not like they do it knowingly. It’s more like an instinct, just like an animal instinct.”

Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Kathy McCabe can be
reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com.
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